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Leadership Transitions: Jobs vs. Buffett...or the Best of Both?

Vision. Passion. Commitment. A willingness to take calculated risks. These are all characteristics of a successful leader. But are all effective leaders cut from the same cloth? Should they be? When planning for business succession, what should you look for in the next generation of corporate leaders?

Steve Jobs was rightly called a "game-changer." Under his leadership, Apple Inc. went beyond simply meeting demand for certain products; the technology giant actually created that demand. Along the way, Jobs and Apple had their share of failures. (Remember the Newton MessagePad?) But some of those failures led to huge successes. (Ever hear of the iPhone?)

Warren Buffett—perhaps the model of the traditional capitalist—takes a different approach to leadership for his conglomerate, Berkshire Hathaway Inc. Buffett buys companies, holds them and creates value...and he is routinely listed among the wealthiest people in America.

Numerous books, articles and graduate school classes have examined the histories and unique methods of both men. Despite their differences, Jobs and Buffett both have exhibited vision, passion and a willingness to take risks (although most would argue that Jobs more frequently put himself and his business on the line in pursuit of innovation). What I find interesting is that both companies are also in the process of building new teams to succeed their renowned leaders.

Is Apple better off with a hyper-innovative, "new release" of Jobs, someone who also looks aggressively to the future? Should Berkshire Hathaway seek out a carbon copy of Buffett, an individual who shows great reverence for the long-established principles of capitalism?

I would suggest that neither end of the spectrum may be the smart choice for most companies. Instead, both Apple and Berkshire Hathaway might benefit from a new kind of leader, one who embodies a spirit of innovation and tradition. Sometimes the most effective leaders—the ones who can get the most out of their people or organizations—do so by finding the middle ground. (This goes for politicians too!)

What do you think? Which leadership qualities are universal, and which produce the best results only under specific circumstances? If you’re planning for a leadership transition, what are you looking for in your successor? 

© 2020 Much Shelist, P.C.National Law Review, Volume I, Number 318


About this Author

David T. Brown, Much Shelist Law firm, Transactional Lawyer

David T. Brown, Chairman of the Board of Much Shelist, P.C. (previously Chair of the firm's Management Committee for 13 years), is actively involved in strategic planning and leadership development for the firm.

David is an experienced transactional lawyer who serves the firm's clients as a legal and business counselor in a wide range of matters. He acts as advisor to closely held businesses in connection with their everyday legal and business issues, including the sale and acquisition of assets, private placement of debt and equity, tax and...